The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A routine shuffling of the ministerial pack of cards becomes an action fraught with signs and consequences. It would appear that the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has not succeeded in achieving the two aims he propounded after his holiday in Manali. He had said that the return of Ms Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress leader, was a distinct possibility, and that some ministers who had a heavy workload would be divested of some of their responsibilities. Neither has happened because the party prevailed over the prime minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership — in this case represented by the party president, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, and the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani — wanted to retain the key portfolios instead of accommodating the demands of the allies in the National Democratic Alliance. This move might be interpreted as one that has an eye on early elections and the resources needed to run the campaign. On the other hand, the cold shoulder to the allies may not help the overall cause of preserving the NDA. Obviously, as of nonce the prospects of the BJP are being looked at differently by different sections of the party leadership. If the reshuffle has not improved the position of the NDA, it has done damage to the image of the prime minister. Mr Vajpayee has failed once again to leave his own distinctive imprint on the appointment of his own ministers.

The failure to bring in Ms Banerjee is a sign of this even though it has more to do with shoddy faction-fighting within the Trinamool Congress. Reports suggest that another Trinamool Congress leader, Mr Sudip Bandopadhyay, an erstwhile Mamata Banerjee loyalist, had been assured of a ministerial berth by one section of the BJP leadership. Ms Banerjee would have none of this since she suspected Mr Bandopadhyay of taking the wind out of her sails. She declared in a fit of pique that she alone could decide who could become ministers from her party. Thus the Trinamool Congress goes without a ministerial berth. This episode also suggests that if Mr Vajpayee wanted Ms Banerjee as a cabinet colleague, other sections of the BJP wanted Mr Bandopadhyay as a minister. Factionalism within the Trinamool Congress was reflected in the factionalism within the BJP power echelons. These are the indicators of the state of politics in the country. More of the prime minister’s time is taken up in balancing power equations than in governance. If the decision of a cabinet reshuffle was inexplicable, the promise of another one in the near future is bewildering.

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